Did Elon Musk Go to College?

The Tesla and new Twitter CEO is now the second richest person in the world. He dropped out of a Ph.D. program but points to his college years as the time when his passions took off.
2 min read

Share this Article

  • Elon Musk earned two bachelor's degrees but dropped out of a Stanford University Ph.D. program.
  • Today Musk's estimated net worth is $175.8 billion, making him the world's second richest.
  • Musk recruits students from competitive universities for Tesla, SpaceX, and other ventures.

Elon Musk just lost the top spot for the richest person in the world.

As of December 13, the SpaceX founder, Tesla, and Twitter CEO's net worth totals $175.8 billion, according to the Forbes Real-Time Billionaires List. This estimate launches him two spots above Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is estimated at $114.8 billion.

As Silicon Valley billionaires go, Elon Musk is the exception that proves the rule. To begin with, he moved out of Silicon Valley, and his electric car company Tesla is relocating from California to Texas.

Musk also skews the typical college drop-out narrative: He completed two bachelor's degrees before leaving academics to build his empire.

The controversial billionaire traces his passion for technology to his undergrad years spent obsessing over the internet, renewable energy, and space, according to Ashlee Vance’s biography of the entrepreneur.

Elon Musk Came to the U.S. as a College Student

While Musk didn't fit in well at school as a kid, Vance reported, he thrived at college. He started at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, on a scholarship. Musk paid his own way through college, making rent money by hosting parties with friends, he said in a December 2019 Tweet.

At Penn, Musk pursued a double major in physics and in economics. While he appreciated his business education, Musk says he preferred physics, and he opted to intern in Silicon Valley over his two summers at Penn.

Musk embarked on a Ph.D. program in physics at Stanford University, but left after two days. The entrepreneur "couldn't stand to just watch the internet go by," he said in a 2013 interview with Khan Academy.

With his brother Kimbal, Musk founded Zip2, an online maps and business directory, in 1995. They sold the company four years later, for over $300 million. Musk, 27 at the time, made $22 million. Next, Musk founded an online financial services company, X.com, the future PayPal. In 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, according to Vance’s biography.

That same year, Musk turned his attention to rocket technology, putting $100 million down to form Space Exploration Technologies — SpaceX. In 2004, Musk was one of the first major investors in Tesla.

While CEO of Tesla, Musk continued to extend his influence, helping to start SolarCity (solar panels), The Boring Company (tunneling), and Neuralink (implantable brain–machine interfaces). He also co-founded OpenAI, a nonprofit research laboratory focused on safer artificial intelligence.

Musk Cold-Calls College Student Recruits

In college, Musk thought deeply about his life goals. Knowing he wanted to have an impact steered him away from an early passion for designing video games.

Instead, he decided to focus on areas that would impact the future of humanity. These included "the internet; sustainable energy; space exploration, in particular the permanent extension of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code."

Musk told podcaster Joe Rogan in May 2020 that, "Too many smart people go into finance and law," and he tends to recruit people like him — many SpaceX engineers, who are overwhelmingly young and male, have been poached from colleges' aerospace departments. He’s even known to reach out to professors to find the top scorers, then call up the best students.

Snapping up smart college students is a recruiting strategy that appears to be paying dividends. Musk has added more than $60 billion to his fortune this year thanks to the strong performance of Tesla stock as well as a recent share sale of SpaceX which valued the company at $100 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Feature Image: Bloomberg / Contributor / Bloomberg / Getty Images